Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 10, “In the Forest of the Night:” ARGH!

by William Hohmeister

This episode… “In the Forest of the Night” is bad. So bad. It’s dull, the bad kind of ridiculous, and full of people who ought to know better. So, like the Doctor Who writer’s room, I guess?

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) explore London after trees grow across the entire city overnight. As they try to figure out what happened we find out the forest is not limited to London, or even England: it’s global. Cool mystery, right?

Forest_of_the_Night CoverThe Doctor finds a little girl early on named Maeve, because Doctor Who is still sometimes about fairy tales you guys, and the writers really want us to know that. In this episode alone we get: a little girl in a red hood running through the magic forest, “breadcrumbs” for clues, Little Red Riding Ciché confronted by SEVERAL big bad wolves, and the Doctor and Clara pointing out over and over that “this is like a fairy tale” or “this is not a fairy tale.” There are probably more, but my head hurts now.

Doctor Who is a science-fiction show, but it’s always played fast and loose with the science. Sometimes this means it gets burned. Every scientific oddity, from the trees growing overnight, to an unexplained solar flare that’s about to kill humanity, is mentioned but never explained. Each is so half-hearted that the episode feels like 45 minutes of pure filler.

The half-hearted story isn’t limited to bad science, either. Everyone gets a taste of the awful. Clara and Danny are back. Clara lies to Danny so much I honestly think she has an actual problem. And she’s not the only one! Danny is apparently willing to put up with it, so screw him too. And the kids, dear god the kids. Every child is so painfully terrible that I think they came from George Lucas’ Home for Wayward Waifs. The only upside is we get a few flashbacks that show how awful Danny and Clara are as teachers.

Maeve is by far the worst, but it’s not her fault. Her sister died, I think? I don’t know, the show never says, and anyone who has to deal with actual problems probably feels pretty insulted. Don’t take your meds, kids! The forest will grant you magic visions! Maeve sought out the Doctor to tell him about the flare, but runs away and leaves pieces of her school stuff as clues because… because. After the Doctor and Clara (and then Danny and the class) find her and chase off the wolves (and subsequent tiger), Maeve lays some heavy exposition on us.

I couldn’t understand a word she said, and I refuse to look it up. Suffice to say, by this point it’s incredibly obvious that the trees are there to stop the solar flare from destroying earth. The only people who don’t know are in the show because, again, you have to fill the time somehow. Seriously: the Doctor could literally not have shown up, and the episode would have ended exactly the same.

To top off this hate sundae, the story nearly made me like it toward the end. It missyappears as though the solar flare really will destroy the earth, and Clara convinces the Doctor to escape with the kids and their teachers. It’s a bluff! She really just wants him to leave so the humans can all burn together.  I . . .

. . . I am not the best person. I love the Doctor, but I also think he has a lot in common with Satan. So: as the Doctor prepared to leave the earth to die, I started cackling. Full-on witch cackle, too. I was so glad everyone was going to die. I mean, sure, they’d come back – that’s what the finale would be about, and maybe that would be Missy’s role! To preserve everyone until the Doctor saves the day!

I was so excited.

It doesn’t happen. The Doctor returns to reassure everyone that there was never, ever any reason to worry, or even watch this show, and then the end happens. Trees absorb sun-fire. Yay. The ending is so sparkling clean and happy that Maeve – whose only character traits are being weird, magic, and having a dead sister – somehow resurrects her freaking sister via a fern. I don’t know.

I DON’T KNOW.

Shot of Missy saying something ominous, cut to Danny being entirely too tolerant of Clara’s crap, roll credits. Then some stuff about the finale (presumably a two-parter) that . . .  does anyone care about it?

Can you tell me why? I need a reason!

Please?

Doctor Who Review: Series 8 Episode 9, “Flatline”

by William Hohmeister

I think I’m ready to love again. Jamie Mathieson, will you marry the Doctor and become showrunner? You wrote my favorite episodes of Doctor Who series 8: “Mummy on the Orient Express” and this week’s episode, “Flatline.” I actually like Clara (Jenna Coleman) again! Longtime readers know I generally see no good in Clara’s character. She’s used so… generically, like a stand-in for a real Companion. “Mummy on the Orient Express” kept her out of view, but “Flatline” gives her a chance to act in a uniquely Clara way.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tries to drop Clara off after their latest adventure, but lands in Bristol. As he tries to deduce a solution to the problem, Clara points out something more worrying: the TARDIS’ door has shrunk. The Doctor and Clara squeeze through and find a shrunken TARDIS outside.

tardis_flatline“Flatline” introduces cool ideas about dimensions of space that I think the writer stole from Flatland. The interior of the TARDIS is infinite; the exterior is the size of a police box. As Whovians know, this leads to many humans gushing “It’s bigger on the inside.” The Doctor guesses that something is leeching power from the Tardis, causing it to shrink. He goes back inside, while Clara explores.

Clara meets Rigsy (Joivan Wade) and Fenton (Christopher Fairbanks) cleaning up Rigsy’s graffiti. Rigsy tells her of missing people, and shows her a mural that depicts each person from behind. She asks for his help, and goes back to get the Doctor.

Here’s where the show took a turn it really needed: the TARDIS has shrunk to the size of a paperweight and the Doctor is trapped inside. Clara picks it up, and we find out something really cool: the Doctor can adjust the TARDIS ’ weight. Since the Tardis is infinite, it would also be infinitely heavy if not for the weight adjustment. Usually it weighs as much as a police box, but now Clara can pick it up and stow it in her purse. It’s a great piece of world-building that I really liked.

Why is the TARDIS ’ size so important? The Doctor, just able to fit his hand throughclara_flatline the door, passes Clara his tools: sonic screwdriver, psychic paper, and an ear piece so he can communicate. Clara picks up Rigsy to investigate the homes of the vanished people, and introduces herself as: “The Doctor. Doctor Oswald.”

The episode unfolds as you expect from here: investigation, discovery, running, enlightenment, running, taking control of the situation, running, and a final plan. Clara drives each of these moments instead of the Doctor, however. The Doctor provides exposition, but he does not play a crucial role until the end. And the Doctor himself has admitted that sometimes he just talks until he hears a solution he likes, making him sort of an exposition-machine even to himself.

Clara plays the Doctor’s role in a way I think is unique to her. We’ve seen other Companions – Rose and Donna come to mind – play at being the Doctor. Rose was terrified (“The Christmas Invasion”) and Donna nearly died (“Journey’s End”).

Clara is a human Doctor, and she’s very efficient at it. She tells Rigsy the truth – or at least part of it – and when he tries to leave Clara shows him the Doctor and the Tardis. While investigating one home she pretends to be MI-5 to get PC Forrest’s (Jessica Hayles) help. The Doctor decides the vanished people must be in the walls of the house; in a moment worthy of the Looney Tunes, he passes Clara a sledgehammer through her purse. Clara explains simply: “Apparently they’re in the walls.”

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Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express

by William Hohmeister

Mummy on the Orient Express” replaces “Listen” as my favorite episode of series 8 Doctor Who. It does almost everything right, including a cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Foxes. It lasts only a few seconds in the episode, but thankfully BBC uploaded the full song to YouTube:

The song sums up the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his relationships with Companions over the years, including the problem with Clara (Jenna Coleman). He’s on a rocketship to Mars, and he’ll make a supersonic coolclaraman/woman outta you.Comparitive Geeks has a great article on Clara’s character, and the best I can do is repeat one of their points: Clara falls flat because she’s only traveling with the Doctor as a hobby. Someone – I suspect the new writer, Jaime Mathieson – realized Clara slows the story and does not connect with the audience. So as soon as possible, Clara accidentally locks herself in a train car far away from the Doctor and lets him get on with the episode, on board the Space Orient Express.

The lack of a real Companion has made the 12th Doctor one of the most human. Despite his brusque manner, Capaldi softens the Doctor just enough to be likeable, and since he can’t connect with Clara he has great moments with other characters on the train. The banter between the Doctor and Chief Engineer Perkins (Frank Skinner) is great. The stories told by Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers) and Captain Quell (David Bambers) frame the overall story of the group trying to understand and stop the Mummy. Moorhouse travels to see amazing things, much like the Doctor. Quell is a soldier, recovering from PTSD on an easy assignment. The Mummy kills both.

Doctor_OrientI think the Doctor is forced to learn and change his attitude toward soldiers, as the two most sympathetic victims – Quell and the Mummy itself – are both soldiers. Though the Doctor liked Moorhouse, the professor tries to bargain with the Mummy and dies uselessly. Quell acts like the Doctor and tries to solve the problem even as the Mummy kills him. His last words indicate that he feels an obligation to try every solution he can think of, though he’s not as smart as the Doctor: “I wouldn’t be much of a soldier if I died with bullets in my gun.”
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Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 7, “Kill the Moon” Review

by William Hohmeister

Doctor Who series 8, episode 7, “Kill the Moon,” by Peter Harness, is tough to review. I’m convinced by now that I don’t like Clara (Jenna Coleman), and probably never will. The last two episodes are good, but focused on Clara especially. She can’t withstand such scrutiny.

Throughout this review I have included my interpretation of how Clara must have explained her adventure to Danny (Samuel Anderson). I hope this helps my thoughts about the end of the episode and her decision to leave the Doctor (Peter Capaldi).

The Doctor is great in this episode. I’ve said before that Capaldi’s Doctor is a jerk and at least a bit cowardly. I still think this, and it has made the character much more interesting.killthemoonclara

Clara: I cannot stand him! The Doctor has gone…just…too far!

Danny: What did he do? Tell me what happened, I can help.

Clara: He insulted Courtney, and when I tried to make him apologize and tell her she’s special, he took her to the moon instead.

Danny: I guess she feels special now.

Clara: And we get there, in 2049, and land with astronauts who are hauling nuclear bombs to blow it up. And there are giant spiders, and dead Mexicans-

Danny: That’s racist.

Clara: How is that racist?

Danny: It feels racist. What were there names?

Clara: Who remembers? And the astronauts died so fast I barely had time to shame them for the bombs!

This has been an issue throughout Doctor Who’s entire run: extras do not matter. All but one of the astronauts die early, and there is a team of pre-dead folks waiting on the moon. They don’t matter. The astronauts aren’t on the moon because of them. They’re just on the moon. Dead.

Danny: Sorry, there were spiders with human teeth, but they weren’t really spiders they were bacteria? And people wanted to blow it all up, because gravity?

Clara: Turns out the moon is an egg.

Danny: What.

Clara: And everyone wanted to blow it up. The Doctor said he didn’t know what happened next, and we had to decide without him. I didn’t know what to do, so I told the earth to vote. I could only see, like, Australia, but close enough. And they all voted to kill the creature hatching out of the moon.

Danny: This has some pretty heavy moral implications.

killthemoon_lundvikClara: Eh, I stopped Captain Lundvik (Hermione Norris) at the last moment. The Doctor reappeared and patronized me-

Courtney Woods (Ellis George): At least he had something to say.

Clara: Get out of here!

Courtney: Seriously, the last ten minutes was just this one, crying her eyes out like a little kid who got lost in a shop.

Clara: So help me, I will take you on another “class trip” if you don’t shut it. You got lucky. The last kids I took didn’t get to hang out safely in the TARDIS. They almost got murdered by robots.nightmare_in_silver

Is there any lesson that endangers enough people that Clara might actually learn something from it? I’m referring to “Nightmare in Silver,” of series 7.

The Doctor refuses when Clara asks to leave. We know about fixed points in time as the limit of what the Doctor can achieve. However many lives he saves, he can’t save everyone. And we see that despite his knowledge of most of time and space, the Doctor often gets into trouble. The series’ tension is introduced when the Companion asks how they can die in the past or future. The Doctor says that time is in flux. He usually doesn’t say more, but in this episode he elaborated.

Danny: This immortal, time-traveling space alien can see all of reality. But he travels to times and places he’s actually vulnerable, seemingly at random. And he’s just arrogant enough to believe he can solve whatever problem he finds.

Clara: Yes.

Danny: Why did he leave you to make the call? Maybe what happened was important in a way we haven’t considered yet?

Clara: Of course! I fell out with the Doctor, and I don’t trust him now, even though he trusts me more than ever. Or did. I guess our argument probably changed his mind.

Danny: I meant something of actual emotional weight, that wasn’t forced in because of “The Caretaker.” Any resolution about Moon Child? Humanity deciding on some weird version of abortion/infanticide? The Doctor’s decision to leave our fate to ourselves and maybe force us to grow up a bit and acknowledge our wider universe? The bizarre reality of his life as a near-omniscient god who is, just sometimes, nearsighted?

Clara: He tried to make a point, but I was crying.

It doesn’t take a supervillain or an apocalypse to threaten people; the universe is dangerous. Sometimes the Doctor does not know the answer. Clara’s reaction shows a lot about the character, but it doesn’t feel Clara-specific. Courtney has almost the same reaction. It seems like anyone could have stood in Clara’s place and said her lines and the episode would have been the same. Clara may grow up, or learn, or become interesting. But with no plot device to tie her to after the end of series 7, and no real personality except her relationship to Danny and the Doctor, Clara’s just… there.

courtney_moon_meme

The rest of the episode is great, go watch it. If you ignore the personal drama, and pay close attention to the Moon Child, you’ll find a hell of a story.

Original Images © BBC Wordwide. Poster by Radio Times. Courtney meme via ComicMix.

– ed: Hannah Givens, I think you will appreciate Will’s take on this. Do give it a read when you have a sec. 🙂